Austrian president rebukes far-right leader over media jibe

President Alexander Van der Bellen, above, took the Freedom Party’s Heinz-Christian Strache to task for accusing the national broadcaster and one of its journalists of lying. (Getty Images)
Updated 16 February 2018
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Austrian president rebukes far-right leader over media jibe

VIENNA: Austria’s president rebuked the far-right deputy head of government on Friday for accusing the national broadcaster and one of its journalists of lying.
Heinz-Christian Strache, who led the anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO) to third place in last year’s parliamentary election and into government as a junior coalition partner, has for years accused national broadcaster ORF of left-wing bias.
On Tuesday he went further, posting a picture on Facebook of leading ORF news presenter Armin Wolf with the inscription, “There is a place where lies become news. That place is ORF.” Wolf has threatened to sue Strache, saying it is the first time a politician has accused him of lying. ORF demanded an apology.
“Disparaging remarks or baselessly accusing a person of lying have no place in our public debate. It is not respectful and it calls into question the freedom of the press,” President Alexander Van der Bellen told the Kurier and Tiroler Tageszeitung newspapers.
Austria’s president usually serves a largely ceremonial role but as head of state he has the power to dismiss governments.
Although previous presidents have only rarely criticized politicians publicly, Van der Bellen, an environmentalist who beat an FPO candidate in a close-fought runoff in 2016, has said he will watch the new government closely.
A day after his Facebook posting, Strache said it was merely a Mardi Gras prank that was marked as such because it carried the one-word caption “Satire!“
But he twinned that defense with a renewed attack on ORF, saying that when the government reformed the broadcaster he would make sure it would have to report “objectively” and scrap the license fee that funds it.
“Simply labelling something as satire does not by any means make it satire,” Van der Bellen said. “Freedom of opinion and of the press as well as independent media are a basic requirement of a living, liberal democracy. Critically questioning politicians is part of that.”
Wolf is known for his muscular interviewing style and has grilled politicians of all shades.
It is the second time Van der Bellen has publicly criticized a member of the FPO since the coalition government led by conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz took office in December.
Last month he called for the head of the FPO list of candidates in Lower Austria, the province that surrounds Vienna, to step down over his involvement in a right-wing student fraternity that once published a songbook with lyrics joking about the Holocaust. That call was heeded five days later.


Zimbabwe’s split opposition helping Mugabe’s successor to victory

Supporters of Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa sit, during the launch of the party's election manifesto in Harare, Thursday, June, 7, 2018. (AP)
Updated 4 min 7 sec ago
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Zimbabwe’s split opposition helping Mugabe’s successor to victory

  • Twenty-three candidates — the highest number in the country’s election history — are in the running for the presidential race after haggling over the allocation of parliamentary seats
  • In May the party held a so-called “healing session” to appease disgruntled members who had threatened to “donate” their votes to the opposition

HARARE: Zimbabwe’s divided opposition could bolster the long ruling party’s chances of victory after failing to forge a solid coalition for the country’s first elections without Robert Mugabe.
Twenty-three candidates — the highest number in the country’s election history — are in the running for the presidential race after haggling over the allocation of parliamentary seats, scuttling a plan by the opposition to form a united front in general elections due on July 30.
But the real battle is seen to be between the ruling Zanu-PF and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the party which has posed the most formidable challenge to Zanu-PF’s grip on power.
The main presidential candidates are Zanu-PF’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, who succeeded Mugabe after a brief military takeover last November and Nelson Chamisa, 40, who took over as leader of the MDC following the death of opposition veteran Morgan Tsvangirai in February.
“The unprecedented numbers of aspiring candidates is an indication of the opening of political space and an interest by Zimbabweans to take part in politics,” said Rushweat Mukundu, of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.
Mnangagwa who took over from Mugabe, ending his nearly four-decade rule in which he presided over the country’s economic and political decline, has vowed to hold clean elections and break from past history of violence-tainted polls.
Zanu-PF “has created the impression that it has broken from its past of violent and contestable elections, hence the unprecedented numbers of those who have come out to contest,” said Harare-based independent analyst Alexander Rusero, adding many have no following “beyond their small cliques and the churches they attend.”
“At best this is counterfeit democracy,” which festers confusion among the opposition while Mnangagwa enjoys the benefit of incumbency.
Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF party, riven by factionalism which began as a battle over Mugabe’s succession, is also battling to stay together.

In May the party held a so-called “healing session” to appease disgruntled members who had threatened to “donate” their votes to the opposition, or stand as independents amid accusations of rigging and favoritism during primary elections.
“It’s not the number of candidates that’s worrying but the phenomenon of rebels who are insisting on standing without the blessing of their parties,” according to University of Zimbabwe’s Eldred Masunungure.
“This is going to have an impact on both Zanu-PF and the MDC Alliance.”
Some 5.6 million people are registered to vote in the election which has attracted the interest of many first-time voters desperate for change in a country ruled by Zanu-PF rule since independence from Britain in 1980.
“I was born under Zanu-PF and all I have known is poverty and suffering,” said Harare street vendor, Takudzwa Mutepeya “for us this is a vote for change.”
Mnangagwa has pledged to revive the country’s moribund economy which took a toll from years of misrule, and to mend fences with Zimbabwe’s former Western allies who severed ties over the Mugabe regime’s tainted human rights record.
Chamisa has said, if elected, he will create a $100-billion economy in a decade.

Other candidates include Mugabe’s former deputy Joice Mujuru, ex-cabinet minister Nkosana Moyo, Thokozani Khupe from a breakaway faction of the MDC, and musician and sculptor Taurai Mteki.
Businesswoman Violet Mariyacha, 61, returned home after 25 years in Britain, to join the presidential race.
“I could not continue watching my people suffering,” she told AFP. “I came to be the new face of Zimbabwe’s politics.”
Human rights activist and presidential candidate Lovemore Madhuku is in the election “to introduce an alternative voice. We are fed up with ... having two dominant parties that are simply doing nothing except fighting each other.”
Previous elections have been marred by violence, intimidation and charges of electoral fraud including stuffing of the electoral roll with phantom voters including long-deceased people.
In 2008 the then opposition leader Tsvangirai withdrew from a presidential run-off election citing the deaths of scores of his supporters.
The lead-up to the election has so far been calm. For the first time the state broadcaster covered the launch of the main opposition MDC’s manifesto live on television while police allowed a march calling for reforms including giving foreign-based citizens to right to vote without having to travel back home.